Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorites of 2015

Dear All: I've been enjoying posts from my fellow bloggers about their favorite reads for the year. My list is actually pretty easy this year because I read so few books, but I've been so lucky to read really great ones! I will be writing posts about several of the books below. I am also including shows and movies on the list, since there were some great ones there too!
Happy new year!

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Graphical novel

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)

Psychological Thriller
Say You're Sorry (Joseph O'Loughlin #6)

Children's Books
Book not out yet

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Telltale Game of Thrones Season One: Death, Heartbreak, and Tragedy in typical GOT style

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Hey, everyone! I'm excited to chat about a recent obsession of mine-- Telltale games in general and specifically, the Game of Thrones Telltale game. Why does this belong on my blog? Because these games, more than any other games that I know of, are like a Choose Your Own Adventure book but in video game format instead of book format.

In each of these games, you play in the point of view (POV) of one or more of the characters. Telltale has capitalized on popular shows and movies such as The Walking Dead, Back to the Future, and now Game of Thrones to entice players. I've already played and loved both TWD Season 1 and 2 and Back to the Future, and Game of Thrones has been engrossing and faithful to the world of GOT.

Image result for game of thrones telltaleI'll say up front that I have never read any of the GOT books and probably never will, and have watched the show only because my husband really likes it. But all that time watching the show pays off here. You don't need to have seen any episodes to enjoy the game, but it definitely enhances the experience as you get to interact with familiar GOT characters including Jon Snow, Margaery Tyrell, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and the gleefully sinister Ramsay Snow. The actors from the show do the voice acting for these characters in the game, lending their authenticity to the story. One issue some people have had with this is that you can't control the fate of these major players from GOT, particularly the repulsive Ramsay. I disagreed with these comments and thought this inclusion was a nice connection to the show, giving fans some familiar faces (and voices). And honestly, these characters aren't the focus of the game, just the icing on the cake.

Image result for game of thrones telltale asherThe meat of the story focuses on the Forrester family, who is only referred to for a mere sentence in one of the GOT books. The Forresters initially have a lot of similarity to the Starks. The family is made up of Lord Gregor, Lady Elissa (who looks suspiciously like Lady Stark), oldest brother Rodrick (the level headed sensible one), Asher (the roguish "bad boy" younger brother who did everything wrong and left his family in shame, but oh, how we love him and his hilarious commentary, pictured here), Mira Forrester (the handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell and who must navigate the cunning players in the political world), and Gared Tuttle, squire to Lord Gregor, who has to travel to the Wall and try to fulfill a promise to Lord Gregor.

I won't say more because playing this without knowing anything going in just makes it that much more enjoyable. The gameplay is intriguing and engrossing; you play as each character, get to direct their decisions. For certain questions, you have 5 seconds to choose one of the four answers. How you answer determines how the other character sees you and can change the direction of the game. There are usually a few important decisions (like whether a major character chooses to kill another major character) that change the story dramatically, and how it plays out. There are other smaller decisions that affect future conversations, or who is present for them. One of the criticisms of this particular Telltale installment was how choices don't really change the future. While it's true that the overarching story doesn't change, there are major changes in who survives depending on your choices throughout the game, and how the scenes ultimately play out (some scenes are only shown if you have made specific choices). I actually played the entire game twice (no small feat, as each "episode" is 2-3 hours each and there are 6 episodes) in order to play the last half with a different set of characters. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

The other thing I think this game stayed completely true to was the feel of the world of GOT. Nothing is what it seems and, there are no right choices. No matter what, there are twists and turns and shocking deaths all over the place. If you are looking for an uplifting game, this isn't for you. But then again, you probably wouldn't like GOT either.

The major problem I had with this game was actually more technical; for whatever reason, it tended to freeze or unsync the action with the voices, or sometimes the voices cut out completely. Also, I know they tried to make the visuals look like watercolor, but it often just looked like bad graphics. Other games, especially the recent Tales of the Borderlands have much better graphics and ease with gameplay, but that said, I made my way through two of the 5 chapters of Borderlands and haven't played it again in months.

If you aren't a huge first person shooter gamer but enjoy playing video games that make you think, these games are perfect for you. If you are a huge GOT fan, this game is for you. If you loved Choose Your Own Adventure when you were a kid, this game is for you. If you want a happy ending, you should look elsewhere. I hope some of you think about trying it out. Let me know if you do, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy Boxing Day! And a little short story of mine to celebrate...

Dear Readers:
I hope you all had an amazing Christmas! My little girl enjoyed hers immensely, except for the fact that my whole family visited and got the stomach bug. We still found a way to enjoy all the presents (and I was thankful we did Christmas a week early so that we actually were able to eat Christmas dinner before the virus hit). 

Yesterday, on actual Christmas, after everyone left, I received an email from that told me I hadn't logged in for 3 years. THREE YEARS?! How has time gone by so fast? It's terrifying to say the least. So I figured I'd take a look at The Writer's Cramp, a short story/poem contest where a prompt is given and you have 24 hours to respond to the prompt.

The prompt was as follows: Tomorrow is Boxing Day. Having lived my life in the US, where it's not observed, I had no idea what Boxing Day was until Wikipedia came along and I looked it up. For tomorrow, come up with your own interpretation of what Boxing Day is - the more outrageous, the better!

So before I give you my entry to the Cramp, what is Boxing day actually? Well, I had to go to the Wiki source to be sure :-)

Boxing Day is a holiday traditionally celebrated the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a "Christmas box", from their masters, employers or customers,[1] in the United Kingdom, The Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and other former British colonies. Today, Boxing Day is a public holiday usually falling on 26 December.

All right. So I didn't win. While it was a bit disappointing, the entry that won was beautiful, heartwarming and perfect for the Christmas holidays. Mine was a bit more Grinchy... edgy... not so heartwarming. So I knew I was making a risky move from the get go. I don't regret it though because I had a blast writing it. Let me know what you guys think. And if anyone can find the set of Easter eggs I put in it, you get mad props, and maybe something else if you post your answer!

The Box

Tomorrow is Boxing Day, and this year, I’m going to win first place.

I finger the glistening wood of the box that I have just completed. Each whirl and curve is perfect and the polish only enhances the delicate finishes. The piece of wood I selected has more warm tones of golden brown than I can count. I found it three years ago, by the lake next to our house. Pietra, my sister, laughed when she saw the expression on my face as I stroked the piece in reverence.

“Grazia, you shouldn’t dream of being a bird when you’re a fish,” she said then, handing me a rock to polish. “Father wouldn’t approve.”

I sigh, but pick up the piece anyway and tuck it in my skirts. “Just promise me you won’t tell him,” I said. I can’t help that I dream of spreading my wings.

I am the daughter of a stone craftsman, and while we have enough business to put food on the table and clothes on our backs, we are not considered even middle class. I don’t need the beautiful dresses that Malizia, the woodcutter’s daughter, wears, but what I wouldn’t give for medicine for my ailing mother, who can barely get out of bed from the early arthritis in her joints. She hasn’t smiled in over a year, and some days, she decides not to get out of bed at all.

The first morning Mother stayed in bed from pain, I devised a plan to give my family everything they deserved. Every year in our kingdom of Artigiano, which is known for its unparalleled skill in woodworking, the day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day, a woodcrafting competition is held. Everyone is eligible to turn in a handcrafted wooden box to the kingdom’s master artisans who rule our kingdom and reside in the castle. The boxes are all labeled with numbers prior to the judging so it doesn’t matter if you are old or young, fat or skinny, rich or poor, male or female; only the box is judged. The family of the winner is showered with gold, and the winner is trained by the master woodworkers in the castle to eventually become one of them, never to return home. I would grieve to never again see the tender look on my father’s face, the warmth of my mother’s gentle touch on my hair, or peals of unrestrained laughter from my sister, Pietra, but it’s a price I am willing to pay. And for all my talk of doing this for others, my heart quickens at the thought of training with the masters and seeing a look of jealousy on Malizia’s face.

The rules are minimal; the box must be crafted from a single piece of wood with only a single embellishment—but gold, silver, gems, or any other precious materials that cannot be afforded by the masses is not allowed, to keep it as fair as possible. But there’s no such thing as fair in this world. The rich hire tutors to train their young in woodworking techniques; Malizia has had personal tutors her whole life. I have no tutors; I just have quick hands and a love of a challenge.

My box is the result of 6 months of labor and love. It has an intricate maze built into the surface that is the perfect map of our city Artigiano from the skies; the only way to open the box is to guide a small sphere of obsidian snowflake granite through the maze to the castle. It’s a work of art. My work of art.

“What is that?”

The box is suddenly plucked from my hands. It is Malizia, her golden curls swinging, her green eyes flashing at me.

“A stonecutter’s daughter made a box?” She fingers it slightly, eyes narrowed, looking between me and the box with an increasing sense of disbelief.

“Please, Malizia,” I plead. “Give it back to me, I need to present it tomorrow.”

A slight smile curls on her lips. “No. I know this wood. This is from wood that my father cut.”

“I found the wood,” I start, but as I say the words, I already know I’ve lost.

“This is my box,” she declares. “I can’t believe you were about to present it as yours. Be off, stone girl.” She flounces off with my most precious possession, and my heart breaks in a million pieces as I see her go.

I suppose there’s always next year, but I know deep down I'll never enter again.

The guard turns the key, as the girl screams and pounds on the cell door.

“Those poor villagers,” he chuckles to his partner, clipping the set of keys to his belt. “They don’t realize this little contest is held so that the master artisans can make sure no one can outdo their work, and they can stay in power.”

“It’s a mistake,” Malizia shrieks. “It’s not my box.”

“That’s what they all say, my dear,” says the other guard, as he leaves the prison in total darkness.

Hope you enjoyed it! Happy Boxing Day!
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